75 years of United Nations

OCT 29

Mains   > International relations   >   International Institutions   >   United Nations and its agencies


  • October 24, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the formation of United Nations.


  • The forerunner of the United Nations was the League of Nations, an organization established after the first World War 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles.  However, the League ceased its activities after failing to prevent the Second World War.
  • The name "United Nations" was first used during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers.
  • In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter.
  • The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and by a majority of other signatories.
  • United Nations Day is celebrated on 24 October each year.


  • Today, the UN is the largest, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world.
  • The UN is headquartered on international territory in New York City, with its other main offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague.
  • there are 193 UN member states, including all undisputed independent states apart from Vatican City.



  1. Maintain international peace and security: The UN does this by working to prevent conflict; helping parties in conflict make peace; peacekeeping; and creating the conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish. The UN Security Council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security.
  2. Protect Human Rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights brought human rights into the realm of international law.  Since then, the Organization has diligently protected human rights through legal instruments and on-the-ground activities.
  3. Deliver humanitarian aid: The Organization relies upon the international community to coordinate humanitarian relief operations due to natural and man-made disasters in areas beyond the relief capacity of national authorities alone.
  4. Promote Sustainable Development: UN actively supports sustainable development- development that promotes prosperity and economic opportunity, greater social well-being, and protection of the environment. Towards this, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015.
  5. Uphold International law: This work is carried out in many ways - by courts, tribunals, multilateral treaties and by the Security Council, which can approve peacekeeping missions, impose sanctions, or authorize the use of force when there is a threat to international peace and security, if it deems this necessary.



  1. General Assembly:
  • The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN.
  • All 193 Member States of the UN are represented in the General Assembly, making it the only UN body with universal representation. 
  • Each year, in September, the full UN membership meets in the General Assembly Hall in New York for the annual General Assembly session.
  • Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly. Decisions on other questions are by simple majority.
  1. Security Council:
  • The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. 
  • It has 15 Members: 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent. Each Member has one vote.
  • Under the Charter, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.
  • The council’s function includes:
    • Determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression.
    • Call upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement.
    • Resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.
  1. Secretariat:
  • The Secretariat comprises the Secretary-General and international UN staff members who carry out the day-to-day work of the UN as mandated by the General Assembly and the Organization's other principal organs. 
  • The Secretary-General is chief administrative officer, appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five-year, renewable term.
  1. Economic and Social Council:
  • The ECOSOC is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as implementation of internationally agreed development goals.
  • It serves as the central mechanism for activities of the UN system and its specialized agencies in the economic, social and environmental fields, supervising subsidiary and expert bodies.
  • It has 54 Members, elected by the General Assembly for overlapping three-year terms. It is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development.
  1. International Court of Justice:
  • The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.
  • Its seat is at the Peace Palace in the Hague (Netherlands). It is the only one of the six principal organs of the United Nations not located in New York (United States of America).
  • The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.
  1. Trusteeship Council:
  • The Trusteeship Council was established to provide international supervision for 11 Trust Territories and ensure that adequate steps were taken to prepare the Territories for self-government and independence.
  • By 1994, all Trust Territories had attained self-government or independence. Hence the Trusteeship Council suspended operation in November 1994.


  • Specialized agencies are international organizations working with the UN, in accordance with relationship agreements between each organization and the UN.
  • There are 17 Specialized Agencies. Some of the major ones are the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank Group UNESCO, UNICEF and International Maritime Organization


  • As a founding member of the United Nations, India strongly supports the purposes and principles of the UN.
  • Currently India is represented in the following 22 UN Bodies. India has won several major elections in the last few years including elections to the Human Right Council (HRC), Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and elections to International Court of Justice (ICJ).
  • Also, India has a long and distinguished history of service in UN peacekeeping, having contributed more personnel than any other country. India also has a long tradition of sending women on UN peacekeeping missions.  


  • Preventing wars: The UN has been involved in every major war and international crisis since its inception and has served as a catalyst for the prevention of others. It authorized the international coalitions that fought in the Korean War (1950-53) and the Persian Gulf War (1991). U.N. Peace keeping forces have conducted several missions providing security and reducing armed conflict, for which it received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1988.
  • Fostering long term peace and cooperation: The UN has peacefully negotiated over 172 peace settlements that have ended regional conflicts. It is also credited with participation in over 300 international treaties on topics as varied as human rights conventions to agreements on the use of outer space and the oceans.
  • Upholder of human rights: The UN has made great strides in raising the consciousness of human rights with the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” OF 1948. The UN’s intense attention to specific human rights abuses helped end apartheid in South Africa.
  • Humanitarian aid: Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has become increasingly involved in providing humanitarian assistance and promoting health of the people. In addition to providing relief for humanitarian crises, the UN is also responding to emergencies caused by natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes.
  • Successful specialized agencies: The World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN affiliated groups have eliminated smallpox and are actively pursuing a battle against AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria around the world. UN programs, like the UNICEF have saved and enriched the lives of the world’s children, while UNESCO has encouraged cultural growth among nations.
  • Created a rules-based world order: Through numerous treaties like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (1996) and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999), the UN has established a world governed by equitable, sustainable and safe principles.
  • Mediation table: Today, the UNGA is a major forum where countries periodically meet to deliberate on issues. Also, the International Court of Justice has helped settle numerous international disputes involving territorial issues, hostage-taking and economic rights.


  • Delayed response: At times of conflicts, the UN cannot authorise armed actions without the unanimous approval of all five of the permanent members of the UNSC. Such unanimity has not always been reached in time to prevent the outbreak of international wars.
  • Failed missions: Several UN efforts have ended in failures. Eg: The 1994 Rwanda Mission, where the UN tried to stop the Rwandan genocide, but the Hutus slaughtered nearly a million members of the Tutsi minority.
  • Ongoing conflicts: The UN has been unable to curb several congoing conflicts, such as the Yemen crisis, Somali civil war, Syrian civil war and the Rohingya crisis. It is also criticised for its incohesive response to contain the novel coronavirus.
  • Silence on critical issues: The UN has, on several occasions, remained silent or inactive in addressing concerns. This is most evident in the cases of human rights violations by P5 countries, like China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
  • Corruption: Corruption in some UN peacekeeping operations is high, with new corruption cases coming to light on a regular basis. Among the most infamous is the Iraqi Oil-for-Food case, in which Saddam Hussein, in collaboration with UN staff members, earned billions of dollars through illegal oil smuggling.
  • Moral relativism: The UNSC is often criticized for addressing the strategic interests and political motives of the permanent members, especially in humanitarian interventions. For example, protecting the oil-rich Kuwait in 1991 but poorly protecting resource-poor Rwandans in 1997.
  • Non adherence to UN: On several occasions, the decisions of the UN have been rejected by countries. The UN has also been unable to enforce rulings of the ICJ. For eg: The United States disagreed with the court’s stance in Nicaragua v. the United States where the court ruled in favour of Nicaragua against the unlawful use of force by USA.
  • Bias against Israel: Issues relating to the state of Israel, Palestinians and other aspects of the Arab–Israeli conflict occupy a large amount of debate time and resources at the United Nations. Hence, it has been accused of focusing disproportionately on allegations of human rights abuses against Israel.


  • Delayed reforms: UN reform is endlessly discussed, but there is sharp disagreement on what kind of reform is needed and for what purpose. The inordinate delay, coupled with the rise in bilateral and multilateral treaties is questioning the significance of UN.
  • Issues surrounding UNSC:
    • The undemocratic habits of competitive vetoing by P-5 countries has prevented the UNSC from fulfilling its collective security mandate.
    • It does not reflect today’s distribution of military and economic power, nor a geographical balance. Despite being major powers, the developing countries have limited role in decision making.
    • The practice of the permanent members meeting privately and then presenting their resolutions to the full council as a fait accompli has also drawn criticism.
  • Heavily bureaucratic: Since it was formed, the UN has become much bigger. Today, many of its organisations have overlapping mandates. Hence, the UN is criticised of being overly bureaucratic and slow in the way it dealt with development issues.
  • Ineffective General Assembly: The UN General Assembly can only make non-binding recommendations and requires consent of UNSC for taking strong actions. This undermines the role of UNGA and the principles of democratic decision making.
  • Financial dependence: The UN is funded primarily by member countries. The United States contributed roughly one-fifth of the organization's entire budget. The trump administration is mulling for major funding cuts, which could affect the UN functioning.
  • Cold war 2.0: Immediately after the UN’s creation, it was pushed to the verge of irrelevance by the Cold War. With another cold war between the US and China looming, questions are being raised over the effectiveness of UN in tackling this.  


  • Revisit UN Charter: The security dynamics in the immediate aftermath of World War II were focused on managing Europe and safeguarding its peripheries. Today, it is the Indo-Pacific region that is driving the global economic and political agenda. Realisinf this change, the UN has undergone a sea change and the Charter needs to catch up.
  • Beyond P5: At the core of the paralysis of the UN is the P5 countries blocking reforms. Such outmoded procedures need to be looked over if reforms are to be established.
  • Financial strength: Financing of the UN is central to UN reform.  The UN cannot perform effectively as long as its budget remains tightly constrained. 
  • Address rising threats: Nuclear fallout, infectious disease, and greenhouse gasses recognize no political boundaries and impact all of humanity. The UN must reform as an organization that reflects this reality.


Q. Critically examine the relevance of United Nations in post pandemic era?